Emergency preparedness from a Counterintelligence Agent

12 essential survival items under $12

Quality survival gear isn't always expensive. By choosing carefully, you can find gear for your kit or as a gift. Here are 12 essential survival items for your bug out bag or camping equipment, all under $12. -- http://graywolfsurvival.com/14778/12-essential-survival-items-under-12/Prepping can sometimes cost a lot of money and a lot of you really like when I post about gear (even though you really should be spending your time and money on skills more than stuff).

Because my EDC kit (every day carry) – the cheap way article was so popular, I thought maybe you’d appreciate a quick article about some inexpensive things you can get under $10 that are worth more than $10 – and that you could actually find useful. This is an entirely different idea from the 9 freakin’ awesome ideas for your bug out bag article that I wrote previously, which was intended to get you to think outside the box about what you carry.

I’d consider every one of these things as something that you should really consider having in your kit. Of course, “essential” really depends on your particular situation but since these things are so cheap and so really useful, I’m declaring them essential, so there.

These aren’t in any particular order. All links should open in a new window so you don’t lose your place (unless I missed one). Most of these will be well under $12. In fact, they’re all under $10 but I thought the title was catchier as 12 essential survival items under $12 instead of 12 essential survival items under $10.

Now, granted – there isn’t anything here that holds water, or filters water, or does a lot of essential things you need to be able to do in a survival situation but I didn’t find anything for those solutions that were under $12 and were a really good deal. I’m sure they’re out there somewhere though. This isn’t ALL the essential survival gear under $12, just a dozen of them.

1. Neck Gaiter (Gator)

If you’ve ever had one of these, or have read some of my previous articles about what gear I have, you know how awesome these things are. I always keep one of these in my pocket when I’m downrange and in my go bag and on my Desert Warrior Harley. Not only are they great if a sandstorm kicks up (I live in Phoenix, AZ so they’re good for that at home too), they’re freaking awesome if it gets chilly.

It’s amazing how just putting this on and tucking it in the top of  your shirt makes you feel like you just put on a jacket. It’s like a gentle, short-haired yeti giving you a throat massage.

You can also wear it around your ears on the top of your head too, which is really nice if you’re sleeping in a cold-weather environment in a sleeping bag.

Don’t believe me? Watch this cool little video on neck gaiters:

You can get them here:

Gi Plus Polypro Neck Gaiter Sand


2. The SAS Survival Guide

To really understand survival and develop survival skills, you need to get out there and practice. Learning from an experienced instructor is the best way but just figuring things out on your own will actually get you pretty far if you have something to go on. This particular book is the best one I’ve seen so far (here‘s a typical review of it) but you really should learn from a variety of sources. What you run into in the wild may not be what you read in a book but if you do enough learning and enough practicing, you’ll start to understand the fundamentals behind certain things and you can adapt easier.

If you aren’t a survival expert, get this book. If I carried an actual text book in my bag, this would be the one I’d carry.

You can get them here:

SAS Survival Guide 2E (Collins Gem): For any climate, for any situation


3. Cree LED flashlight

Obviously I had to mention this little thing. I like this one so much, I did a review of it. They’re under $5 (including shipping), damn near indestructible, and REALLY bright. I’ve already placed 3 orders for these myself and I’ll definitely be buying more. I keep one in each vehicle, one in my Harley, one in my go bag, one in my bug out bag, and have a couple around the house. They’re kind of addicting. I know a LOT of people who’ve bought a dozen of these and put one in every vehicle and gave one to every member of their family.

They take a single AA battery and can run off rechargeables so they fit into my unlimited bug out bag power system I came up with. They’re about 4″ long and really inexpensive so they’re one of the best things for stocking stuffers for people even if they’re not a prepper or camper.

Here’s a quick video review of it:

You can get them here:

Mini Cree Led Flashlight Torch Adjustable Focus Light Lamp


4. Ferro spark fire starter with magnesium – a real one

My primary fire starting method is a cheap mini bic lighter but you always need at least a backup fire starting method in case the first one doesn’t work – and – sometimes conditions just aren’t good enough for just a plain flame to catch your tinder.


Do not buy a generic ferro/magnesium firestarter. I realize that there are cheaper ones (by a couple bucks) and MUCH more popular ones out there. The nice thing about this one is it has the magnesium bar right with it that you can shave off to help start a fire with whatever method you’re using. You CAN’T do that with the Chinese knock-off because their magnesium sucks. This one is still under $10. Get a Doan fire starter.

Luckily I found a guy who did a video on this so I didn’t have to do one myself or take a crap ton of photos. This is why you don’t buy a Chinese knock-off version:

You can get them here:

Genuine Issue Magnesium Survival Firestarter


5. Mylar blankets

Contrary to popular belief, these aren’t great as a survival blanket. They tear way too easily so they might work for a night, but not much more. They’ll do in a pinch but the more expensive, thicker ones are much better but they’re not under $10.

These, however, are much less expensive and take up much less space. You can pack several of them pretty much anywhere.

They’re great for reflecting body heat or campfire heat down to your body in a shelter and can be used as a kind of mini tarp for laying things out that you don’t want dirty. Here are 50 ways you can use them.

You can get them here:

Emergency Mylar Thermal Blankets


6. Clotrimazole

I can hear some of you saying, “What the heck?” This stuff ALWAYS goes in my toiletries kit when I travel downrange or just around the country, and I keep a tube in my go bag and my bug out bag.

Why? Because one time I was in Central America and my nether region got so chaffed that I literally couldn’t walk. I was down for the count. I might as well had been shot. A local pharmacy gave me a tube of this stuff and I was back to normal in just a few hours.

It’s also great for foot rot in case you find yourself walking a lot in wet or rainy conditions (which is, I guess, why it was invented in the first place). Sometimes just drying out your feet doesn’t help (although giving your feet a smoke bath can help somewhat).

This is essentially the same as Lotrimin but less expensive and definitely works.

You can get them here:

Clotrimazole Anti-Fungal Cream


7. 100 feet of 550 cord

One of the most useful items you can have in your camping or bug out gear. I could write sonnets about how to use 550 cord in a survival situation but I won’t because I hate sonnets. And I can’t write them.

You can get them here:

Paracord Planet Type III 7 Strand 550 Paracord


8. Mini Bic lighter

Well, I couldn’t leave these off the list after mentioning them above. Not only are these super cheap and work in almost all cases, these particular ones are the mini size so they fit in your pocket or pretty much anywhere. They’re just like the bigger Bics but they’re smaller. That’s why they’re called mini Bic lighers.

A cheap lighter is my #1 choice for starting a fire.

You can get them here:

Mini Bic Lighters


9. Piano wire

This is some super great stuff for setting traps, building shelters and other things around camp, and lots of other uses. You could also buy snare traps already made-up but it’s more expensive and you can’t use them for much else. You can even make a weapon out of this stuff called a garrote, which is a horrible way to die, I’d imagine. Luckily, I don’t have any experience there. Otherwise I’d be dead and it would be pretty freaky reading this from a dead guy.

You can get them here:

High Carbon Steel Piano Wire, #2B (Smooth) Finish


10. S.O.S. Emergency food rations bar

This is what I carry in my go bag and my bug out bag. For under $10, you get Coast-Guard-approved rations that fit 3600 calories in a tight little space. You can get cheaper ones like Mainstay but they’re not as good as these. In an emergency situation, this could easily get you through your 72 hours (you’ll still be a little hungry but you could still operate). Or, you could eat them while you’re sitting on the floor of the flight terminal in Iraq because you’re tired of the crappy shelf stables while you wait for your flight to Balad. Just sayin’.

Here’s a quick video on the S.O.S food rations bar:

You can get them here:

S.O.S. Rations Emergency 3600 Calorie Food Bar


11. Quality emergency mirror

A signal mirror is one of those essential communication things that you should always have in your survival kit. You can use it to signal your comrades or for rescue, or you could use them to shave if you’re not a real man.

The problem is that most of them are junk. Get a glass one and get a quality one because the other ones won’t hold up. The ones with the hole in the middle are easier to aim.

Here’s an old Army training video on how to use a signal mirror:


The one I’ve listed below is a good choice.

You can get them here:

Vector 1 Signal Mirror


12. Safety whistle

This is another essential signaling device. Very useful in the dark or fog. This particular one (The Storm Safety Whistle) is the loudest one I know (and the one I carry) but still under $10. Do NOT blow this in your car while your loved one is sleeping.

You can get them here:

Storm All-Weather Safety Whistle

So there ya’ have it. Every single one of these items would be very useful in a survival situation as a part of your kit or as a gift for someone else, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get them – even the quality ones I mentioned.

Any other suggestions of essential survival gear under $12 $10?


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About graywolfsurvival.com

I am a former federal agent and military veteran who has deployed to combat theaters in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and have almost three decades of military and military contracting experience.

My goal is to help families to understand how to intelligently protect their family and their way of life against real threats, without all the end-of-the-world doomsday crap.


  1. I have the waterproof match holder with “hurricane” matches as a backup. Course this is in the essentials list as well. (Mine is orange, just diff brand from the one I am listing.)


  2. If you know CPR and are willing to perform in an emergency, a useful addition to any kit with space is a CPR Pocket Rescue Mask. They are ideal for keeping the first-aider safe, and there’s a collapsible one with plastic case on amazon for less than $8. I keep one in the glove box with some other basic supplies, and used to keep one with me constantly when I worked with children with special needs, just in case. Love the post and the site! Keep up the informative and fantastic work!

    • The new CPR does not rely on you breathing for the victim. You just pump. Better survivability rate. Under the breath & pump method, blood pressure would just get up enough to start moving, then fall back to near zero while breathing. Training takes 5 minutes, not 4 hours like it used to. Check it out!

  3. Wish I new about that kneck gator trick for cooling your bottled water. I wouldn’t have been drinking tea kettle hot water on my patrols.

  4. good since of humor for a dead guy, Good list for people just getting started , it will cover base needs and with a little know how they can Borden there use.

  5. Bacon…and a spork! Just sayin’.

  6. Terry Keever says:

    If you don’t have sinal mirror, a cd or dvd works. Signaled small aircraft easily on partly cloudy days. Never tried shaving.

    Great info. Lots of things to learn.

  7. You made me laugh out loud, several times during this post. Thanks for the laughs and the recommendations 🙂

  8. Ready Rooikat says:

    Good list!
    I never thought of the anti-fungal crèam.

  9. Good write-up. So many people get themselves overwhelmed by how “expensive” gear can be, and don’t slow down and think about what can be had on a realistic budget.

  10. Great article! I’ve seen a few of these items reviewed before but not by anyone whose opinion I trust. The recommendation for piano wire blew me away but it makes perfect sense. I’ll be ordering the items I don’t have and I hope you get a bit of compensation from Amazon by my ordering through your site.
    I always enjoy your straight forward, no BS articles. If I want hype and fear-mongering I’ll go elsewhere. Yep, I’ll be sticking around. Thanks for the insights.

  11. Bonnie R. says:

    Hello, I’m new to this “Prepper Stuff”, but not new to the Great Outdoors.
    I appreciate your website, especially the part so far re: the “bug out bag”. I pulled out my old backpack from retirement, went through it to see if it had any thing still usable after 25+ yrs… LOL! Yep… my cook stove, and a few other things. But they’ve improved and lightened/compacted things since I use to wonder the woods in East TX. Thank you for the list you made(72 hr bag), and thank you for being so thorough too. Also… I agree that it also depends on geographical region, depends on what you put in your pack. Good Point! I really like your site, I have learned a lot from it so far… look forward to reading more. Keep up the good work!
    Thank you for your Service, thank you for what you’re doing to help people prepare… God Bless You and Our Country!

  12. I bought some serrated knives at WalMart for $1 (they are now $1.97). I’m certainly not saying that one of these should be your go-to knife, but it’ll work if you really need one. Similar to your philosophy with the CREE, I bought a bunch and put one in each car, each backpack and most of the junk drawers.

    I’d also add to the list: a folded sheet of aluminum foil, some cotton balls dipped in Vaseline and stored in an empty Altoids tin or box of trick/relighting birthday candles

  13. Looks like a good list. I substitute multistrand picture hanging wire for the piano wire. I have always used it for rabbit snares and it works well. I’ve read somewhere that even dental floss can be used for a garrott so I guess the multi strand would work too.

  14. Good stuff. The USAF Survival Manual is widely acknowledged to be the best all-round survival guide. Air crews can go down anywhere in the world; any climate, sea or land. It’s a bit bigger than the SAS guide you referenced. Actually that one is the abridged version.

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